Friday, 12 March 2021

Back To Sweden

I had made mention that HBIC would be heading back over to Sweden for an update on SDHL action as the semifinal series took place this week and into this weekend assuming that Games Four and Five would be needed in either or both series. I can tell you that one series did need it, but it was simply one additional game that was required. The top-four seeds in the SDHL were playing one another, so there was hope that it would be a closer set of series than what we saw on paper as Luleå and Brynäs opened up a huge points difference in the standings compared to HV71 and Djurgårdens. That doesn't mean those two teams would sit back, though, as three victories would be enough for a berth in the final! Who would advance? Let's find out!

I had mentioned last week that three U SPORTS players remained in the SDHL playoffs after the quarterfinal round, and those three players included HV71's Danielle Stone (Saskatchewan) and Djurgårdens' duo of Mathea Fischer (UBC) and Sarah Bujold (StFX). While this blog works to remain objective, it's pretty clear who I'd be pulling for in both series due to the U SPORTS connections. Let's see if a U SPORTS player will play for a championship!

The fourth-seeded Djurgårdens started the semifinal at home against top-seeded Luleå. Luleå finished 32 points ahead of Djurgårdens in the standing in the regular season, so there was some concern this series might be a little lopsided based on those final numbers.

Game One on Sunday lived up to that expectation as Noora Tulus, Johanna Olofsson, and Michela Cava staked Luleå to the 3-0 lead after the first period. Sarah Bujold would scored a power-play goal just 17 seconds into the second period for Djurgårdens to make it a 3-1 game, but Luleå saw Cava pick up her second goal of the game on the power-play and Josefine Persson added a fifth goal for Luleå for the four-goal lead through forty minutes. Cava picked up the hat trick with another goal in the third period, and Viivi Vainikka would round out the scoring in this one as Luleå routed Djurgårdens 7-1 for their third-straight playoff win and the 1-0 series lead in this semifinal.

Game Two on Monday was a little different compared to the previous night. Alexis Mauermann got things started for Djurgårdens just 15 seconds into the game as they grabbed the early lead, but Luleå would find the equalizer off the stick of Noora Tulus at 5:22. That scored would hold through to the second period where Josefine Persson would score on the power-play at 13:28 to give Luleå the 2-1 lead. Jenni Hiirikoski added a third Luleå goal at 2:42 of the final frame, and it would be more than enough for goaltender Sara Grahn as Luleå skated to the 3-1 victory and a 2-0 series lead with the back-to-back wins!

Game Three took place on Wednesday in Luleå, and this one was a true playoff game with the electricity in the building and the action on the ice. Nicole Hall scored at 5:51 of the first period for Djurgårdens, and it would be the only goal scored as Djurgårdens' netminder Ida Boman shutout the high-flying Luleå squad in the 1-0 victory! This game would mark the first time this season that Luleå had been shutout, and the Djurgårdens victory on Wednesday cut the series lead to 2-1 for Luleå!

Game Four went yesterday in Luleå once more, and the same script was used in this game with a small twist. Linn Peterson would put Luleå up 1-0 at 7:36 of the first period, and that goal would stand as the difference as Luleå's Sara Grahn answered the shutout from one night earlier with a shutout of her own in the 1-0 win to oust Djurgårdens from the playoffs with a 3-1 series victory! Luleå now advances to the SDHL Final where they will meet one of HV71 or Brynäs based on the results from the other semifinal series!

There was a 15-point separation between third-seeded HV71 and second-seeded Brynäs in this series, but Brynäs entered the series not having surrendered a goal in the quarterfinal against SDE. Could HV71 be the team to trip up this seemingly unstoppable force in Brynäs?

Sunday's game was, in a word, crazy. Kennedy Marchment put HV71 ahead at 4:19 of the first period before Brynäs responded with a pair of goals off the stick of Denisa Krizova at 8:52 and 11:41. Not to outdone by her counterpart, Marchment tallied her second of the game to keep pace with Krizova at 14:18 to send this game into the first break tied at 2-2. Oliva Zafuto scored the only goal of the second period - a power-play marker for HV71 - and they'd take the 3-2 lead into the final frame where the inexplicable happened.

Sanni Hakala made it 4-2 for HV71 at 8:43 and Kennedy Marchment picked up her hat trick goal at 12:56 to make it 5-2 for HV71. Brynäs, sensing the feeling of defeat, pulled netminder Eveliina Suonpää with 4:57 to play for the extra attacker, and they'd strike with the advantage as Anna Meiner scored at 16:48 to make it a 5-3 game. Suonpää went back to the net, and Krizova, not to be outdone by Marchment, went and scored her hat trick goal with 1:58 to play to make it a 5-4 game. And with 32 seconds remaining and Brynäs throwing everything at the net, they'd find twine when Josefin Bouveng beat Alba Gonzalo to even the game at 5-5 and send this content to overtime!

We didn't have to wait long for a decision in this one as Brynäs used that momentum built over the final three minutes of the game to celebrate a victory as Katerina Mrazova scored the overtime game-winning goal at 2:05 of the extra time to give Brynäs the 6-5 overtime victory in Game One and the 1-0 lead in the series!

Game Two was on Monday, but there was far less craziness at the end of the game in this one. Kennedy Marchment opened the scoring for HV71 at the 9:33 mark in the first period as HV71 carried the one-goal lead into the break. She'd make it 2-0 for HV71 with her second goal at 3:08 of the middle frame, but Brynäs would cut the deficit in half late in the period when Josefin Bouveng scored a power-play goal at 17:01. Brynäs would escape the period on even terms with HV71 when Denisa Krizova scored 1:01 after Bouveng, and we had a 2-2 game entering the third period! Bouveng would score at 12:34 to give Brynäs their first lead of the game, and a couple of late penalties to HV71 saw their comeback attempt fall short as Brynäs takes Game Two by a 3-2 score and moves to a 2-0 lead in the series!

Game Three would move to Gävle as Brynäs returned home looking to close out the series after a couple of thrilling games in Jönköping. This game, however, was the opposit of thrilling in the result. Lara Stalder and Josefin Bouveng scored in the first four minutes of the second period to stake Brynäs to the 2-0 lead through forty minutes of play, and Bouveng scored her SDHL-leading ninth goal of the playoffs at the 4:44 mark of the third period to put Brynäs up 3-0. Despite pulling goaltender Alba Gonzalo with 6:20 to play in the third period, all HV71 got out of it was a Lara Stalder empty-net goal to put Brynäs up 4-0 as they held HV71 to just 18 shots in this game. The 4-0 win would give Brynäs the 3-0 series sweep, and they'd be off to the SDHL Final where they'll meet Luleå as the top-two teams in the SDHL will compete for supremacy!

The SDHL Final is slated to start on Monday, March 15, and it is a best-of-five series to determine the SDHL Championship. Luleå finished 11 points better than Brynäs in the regular season, but Brynäs has yet to lose a game in these playoffs, coming from behind twice against HV71 in the semifinal. During the regular season, Luleå held a 2-1-1-0 record in head-to-head play compared to the 1-2-0-1 record Brynäs posted, and Luleå outscored Brynäs 15-11 in those four contests not including the shootout winner in their final meeting. This should be a great series between two teams who were powerhouses all season long.

The schedule for the final is as follows:
  • Game One: Monday, March 15 with Luleå at Brynäs.
  • Game Two: Wednesday, March 17 with Luleå at Brynäs
  • Game Three: Friday, March 19 with Brynäs at Luleå.
  • Game Four*: Sunday, March 21 with Brynäs at Luleå.
  • Game Five*: Monday, March 22 with Brynäs at Luleå.
Of course, Games Four and Five are asterisked because they'll only be played if necessary. There are a grand total of zero U SPORTS players remaining in the SDHL Playoffs, so my loyalty to either team is nil at this point. I will say that I'm a fan of Jenni Hiirikoski from Luleå as the Finnish Olympian has always been a solid player in my eyes, so maybe I'll root for Luleå in this final. Regardless of who I cheer for, both teams certainly deserved to be playing for the Swedish Women's League's highest honour after the seasons they had, so let's hope for an action-packed, five-game series that blows the doors off the hockey world with highlight-reel goals and show-stopping saves!

One series to go. Only one team will prevail. Who ya got?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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